When asked by Olga Kenyon in 1992 whether she had a personal favourite amongst the novels she'd written, Angela Carter chose The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Elsewhere, however, she represented that piece of work as the one that very nearly scuppered her burgeoning novelistic career. The fact that it received a lukewarm critical reception obviously rankled with her – in interview with Susannah Clapp, for example, she satirically described it as 'the novel which marked the beginning of my obscurity. I went from being a very promising young writer to being completely ignored in two novels'.1 The other of the 'two novels' to which she refers here was Love, and the analogy between them one she had made before, employing, moreover, very much the same half-humorous, half-resentful tone. Whilst Love, she said on that occasion, 'had been a small book, mildly commercially unviable, Hoffman, a big book, was magnificendy commercially unviable'.2
Given her feelings, it is perhaps not surprising that Carter, formerly a prolific author who in the early years of her career wrote a novel a year or thereabouts, waited five years before publishing another. On her return to England from Japan in 1972, and now finally divorced from her first husband, Carter fell on difficult times. 'Times are hard & getting harder', she wrote in a private letter in 1974. 'I sit in the city of Bath & watch capitalism crumble; I regret my misspent youth. Is all'.3 Not only did she discover that her writing did not make enough money to live on, she didn't have the security of a permanent publisher. Geographically speaking, she was equally displaced, for although she returned to the south-west of England in 1973 and bought a house in Bath, economic necessity forced her to travel in order to earn her keep. Amongst other forays abroad, she briefly returned to Japan in order to gather the material for some more New Society essays.